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Updated: 9 hours 11 min ago

Missouri Senate Considers Food Safety Exemptions for Home Kitchens and Nonprofit Events

13 hours 27 min ago

Nonprofit events in Missouri would be able to serve food prepared in unregulated home kitchens exempt from food safety regulations, and home kitchens would be able to make and sell cottage foods worth up to $50,000 a year under legislation before the Missouri Senate.

Missouri House Bill 1100, which passed the General Assembly on a 131-13 vote, was reported to the Missouri Senate on Tuesday, where it received a first reading. HB 1100 combines food safety exemptions for nonprofit organizations with opening home kitchens to cottage food production.

State Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger (R-Lake St. Louis) is the sponsor of the bill. The Senate has ample time to consider Assembly-passed bills since the Missouri Legislature is not scheduled to adjourn until May 30.

Freedom from food safety regulation for nonprofits and home kitchens would come with requirements for those taking advantage of the bill’s provisions to notify the public that the food they are about to receive is not subject to either regulation or inspection by food safety officials.

Nonprofits staging charitable fundraising events featuring unregulated food would also be required to notify regulatory authorities ahead of time with the date, location and date, along with the name of the person responsible for the event.

If a food establishment already regulated by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is hired to serve food at the event, the exemption would not apply. Also, the nonprofit and home kitchen exemptions would not apply to either Missouri’s largest or Home Rule counties, which include the St. Louis and Kansas City areas.

Home kitchens would be opened to the production of baked goods, canned jams and jellies, and dried herbs and herb mixes. Only direct sales to consumers would be permitted. The Department of Health and Senior Services is charged with establishing labeling rules for food made in home kitchens. No Internet sales would be permitted.

State and local health department officials would be authorized to investigate any foodborne disease or outbreak stemming from an unregulated kitchen.

Risk Assessment vs. Risk Management: What’s the Difference?

13 hours 28 min ago

(This article was posted April 16, 2014, on the European Food Safety Authority website and is reposted here with permission.)

The decision to separate the tasks of risk assessment and risk management just over a decade ago has transformed the safety of Europe’s food. And, while there is wide recognition that this change has strengthened the safety of the food chain, uncertainty can still exist over the difference in roles and responsibilities of risk assessors and risk managers.

Ensuring that food is safe from farm to fork is complex and challenging. It demands that strict safety measures are applied at all stages of the supply chain. Risk assessment and risk management are central pillars in this process.

Separation of roles

So what is the difference between these two key activities? Risk assessors provide independent scientific advice on potential threats in the food chain. Risk managers use this advice as a basis for making decisions to address these issues. At a European level, this separation of roles is fundamental and enshrined in law. It was introduced to make clear the distinction between science and politics and to place independent science-based assessment at the heart of policy-making.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) plays a pivotal role in ensuring that Europe’s food is safe. But it is just one part of an EU-wide framework which includes many different partners. EFSA is the principal risk assessor in Europe, evaluating threats associated with the food chain. The risk managers are the European Commission, Member State authorities and the European Parliament. Between them, they are responsible for developing policies, authorizing products and making laws regarding food based on EFSA’s scientific advice.

Advice, not authorization

For example, EFSA evaluates the safety of GMO applications on a case-by-case basis. The Authority’s role ends there. It is the risk managers in the European Commission and Member States who decide whether to authorize each GMO. The same is true in a host of other areas: for pesticides such as neonicotinoids, for food contact materials used in food packaging and for feed additives, to name a few. In each case, EFSA provides independent science-based advice, and risk managers decide on the appropriate action using the Authority’s expert conclusions as the foundation for their decisions.

So how does EFSA work? It is a common misconception that scientists at EFSA carry out experiments and use the results as the basis for its scientific opinions. EFSA does not have laboratories nor does it generate new scientific research.

Instead, EFSA is tasked under EU law with collecting existing research and data. The Authority’s scientists then analyze this information and produce scientific advice to support decision-making by risk managers.

The food that reaches consumers’ plates is safer today than it has ever been – although important work always remains to be done. Central to this ongoing progress is the split between risk assessment and risk management – separating the experts who deliver science-based opinions from those charged with implementing rules based on this advice.

Judge Gives Prosecutors Last Word In Duel Over Stewart Parnell’s Expert Witness

13 hours 29 min ago

U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands said Tuesday that government attorneys may file an additional three pages of arguments to correct a possible misstatement of law by Stewart Parnell’s defense attorneys. Parnell is the former Peanut Corporation of America executive scheduled to go on trial later this summer with three of his former managers on 76 federal felony counts.

Sands signed an order giving government prosecutors an additional seven days to file a so-called “sur-reply” to claims by Parnell’s attorneys that “knowledge is not an essential element of the crimes charged against him.” In the order, Sands said sur-replies are not usually permitted, but he was allowing the request this time because Parnell’s attorney raised the argument for the first time in a reply brief to the government.

The dispute over whether knowledge is an essential element of the alleged crimes emerged during a lengthy pre-trial proceeding over whether Dr. Joseph C. Conley, Jr., the neuropsychologist who claims Parnell suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), should be allowed to testify as an expert at trial. The question of Conley’s expert witness status was taken to a March 13 “Daubert” hearing, which included nearly seven hours of oral testimony and resulted in a 197-page hearing transcript and 193 pages of exhibits.

The former executives of the now-defunct company that once processed peanuts at plants in Georgia and Texas were charged after a four-year FBI investigation sparked by the 2008-2009 Salmonella outbreak involving peanut butter and peanut paste from the PCA plants. The outbreak resulted in 700 illnesses and nine deaths.

Charges include conspiracy, introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, introduction of misbranded food into instate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, instate shipments fraud, wire fraud and obstruction of justice.

Stewart Parnell’s brother, Michael Parnell, PCAs former vice president and peanut broker; Samuel Lightsey, PCA’s Georgia plant manager, and Mary Wilkerson, the quality control manger, are the other three defendants charged in the case. They have largely been on the sidelines while Sands, the trial judge, held the extensive pre-trial “Daubert” hearings over Conley’s status. Such expert witness proceedings are named for “Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals,” a precedent-setting case on expert witnesses.

All four defendants are free on bail and to assist in their own defense.

Other important dates leading up to the trial include:

April: Hearing for other pre-trial motions is April 30.

May: Deadline of May 20 for government and defense attorneys to file any start-of-trial motions known as “in limine.”

June: Responses to motions in limine will be due June 9, and replies must be turned in by June 19. A June 24 pre-trial hearing will be held for Sands to hear arguments on the start-of-trial motions. Sands wants the attorneys to meet regarding exhibits on June 25.

July: Attorneys must propose voir dire questions for the jury and jury instructions by July 7. If all of this stays on the tracks, the jury trial will begin July 14.

An Earth Day Suggestion to Protect our Planet, Farmworkers and Families

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 6:10pm

(This was published April 22, 2014, on The Hill’s Congress blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.)

Each Earth Day, we are inundated by advertising and other pronouncements with ways to help protect our planet. But one step – curbing the use of toxic and harmful pesticides in agriculture – would help protect the environment, farmworkers and our families.

The dangers that pesticides present to the environment are well-documented and widely discussed. Outrage and concern have grown over the depletion of bee populations due to pesticide spray. In big agribusiness states such as Florida and California, the chemicals endanger dozens of fish and bird species.

But the careless use of these toxic chemicals such as chlorpyrifos and phosmet also has dangerous effects on our food system – for both farmworkers and consumers.

Pesticide exposure causes farmworkers to suffer more chemical-related injuries and illnesses than any other workforce in the country, including manufacturing. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that as many as 20,000 workers are affected annually. The real number is likely much higher, as many workers have no access to medical attention.

Many farmworkers don’t receive adequate training about pesticide hazards, so they might not even realize their symptoms are due to pesticide exposure. And farmworkers who lack legal work authorization – the majority are undocumented immigrants – are less likely to report violations of workplace safety for fear of losing their jobs or being deported.

Consequences of pesticide exposure range from stinging eyes, rashes and blisters to blindness, nausea, dizziness, headaches, coma and even death. Infertility, neurological disorders and cancer are also common. Farmworkers’ family members sometimes are similarly affected. Pesticide exposure is credited with causing birth defects, developmental delays, leukemia and brain cancer among farmworker children. Many of these children also attend schools and live in homes that are dangerously close to fields using these chemicals.

The dangers don’t stop in the fields. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found disturbing levels of pesticide exposure in consumers. In their 2013 study, 93 percent of all Americans tested were rated positive for metabolites of chlorpyrifos, banned in households due to the danger posed to children, yet still permitted for agricultural use. In the same study, 99 percent tested positive for DDT degradants, a pesticide that has not been used in nearly 40 years, primarily because of its well-known harms.

As we look for solutions to environmental dangers this Earth Day, it is clear that progress toward curbing the risks of pesticides is achievable. For example, EPA is currently considering changes to the Worker Protection Standard, the federal regulation designed to protect farmworkers from risks such as pesticide exposure.

Our planet and the nation’s farmworkers deserve to be protected from the deadly nature of pesticides. All consumers deserve to know what is in their food and whether it is safe.

To learn more about the harmful effects of pesticides, read Exposed and Ignored: How Pesticides are Endangering Our Nation’s Farmworkers or visit www.farmworkerjustice.org.

Update: More Than 100 Illnesses Reported After Food Safety Summit

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 2:41pm

The Baltimore City Health Department and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have received more than 100 reports of illness after the Food Safety Summit held April 8-10 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

According to an update sent out Tuesday morning to the approximately 1,300 FSS attendees, most of the illnesses reported relate to “self-limited diarrhea.”

A state health official noted that they have heard from about 400 people and that no associated hospitalizations or deaths have been reported.

“We are working on evaluating possible exposures and doing testing at the Maryland state public health laboratory to attempt to identify an agent. At the conclusion of the investigation, a summary report will be available,” Tuesday’s update stated.

Those who attended the FSS and have not yet responded to an online survey are being asked to do so now. More information may be obtained by contacting the Division of Outbreak Investigation at (410) 767-6700 or by email at DHMH.Outbreaks@maryland.gov.

Sara Luell, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, sent out a statement Thursday afternoon noting that initial reports of illness had come in from four attendees at the FSS:

“Although we are in the initial stages of the investigation, there are currently no reported hospitalizations or deaths related to these illnesses. There are also currently no reports of illnesses associated with other conferences at the Baltimore Convention Center. The investigation is ongoing.”

According to Michael Schwartzberg, public information officer for the Baltimore City Health Department, four calls came in on April 15 and 16 from people “complaining of feeling sick with diarrhea, upset stomach and other related symptoms about 12 hours after eating a meal at the Baltimore Convention Center on April 9.”

The city dispatched two environmental health sanitarians to the convention center on April 16, Schwartzberg stated, who did an “extensive investigation” at Centerplate, the center’s in-house caterer.

“With the exception of one issue, everything was in compliance with codes and regulations. Centerplate was issued a violation for condensation dripping from one of the 2 ice machines in the kitchen, and this issue was immediately corrected,” Schwartzberg wrote in an email. He added that no violations were noted at the most recent regularly scheduled inspection there on Feb. 27.

This year’s 16th-annual FSS drew more than 1,500 attendees from across the spectrum of the food industry, including growers, processors, retailers, distributors, food-service operators, regulators and academia.

FDA Launches Food Code Reference System

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 1:04am

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration launched its Food Code Reference System Monday in an effort to strengthen understanding and application of the FDA Food Code.

State and local agencies use the agency’s model food code to make their food safety rules more consistent with national food regulatory policy.

The new Food Code Reference System, developed and issued by the Retail Food Protection Team in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, is a searchable database to answer user questions and contains entries from responses to Food Code-related questions posed to FDA.

The initial batch of entries addresses issues such as storing foods that require temperature control for safety, the design of food establishments, bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods, and proper hand hygiene and employee attire.

After an initial registration, system users can search the database using drop-down menus, keyword search, date fields, or a combination of these options.

FDA plans to add more entries relevant to applying the Food Code across jurisdictions.

CDC: Listeria Outbreak Linked To Roos Foods Appears Over

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 1:02am

The Listeria monocytogenes outbreak earlier this year that killed one person and sickened seven people in Delaware and one in California appears to be over, according to a final update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The victims were all of Hispanic ethnicity, CDC’s update noted, and five of the illnesses (two mother-newborn pairs and one newborn) were related to pregnancy. Seven of the eight people sickened were hospitalized. No new illnesses related to this outbreak have been reported since the last CDC update on March 12, 2014.

The agency’s update states that the investigation by local and state public health and regulatory agencies, CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicated that cheese products made by Roos Foods of Kenton, DE, were the likely source of this outbreak. The cheese products have been recalled, and a list of the recalled brands can be found here.

Due to the possibility of a continued public health threat, FDA suspended the food facility registration of Roos Foods on March 11, 2014, meaning that the company cannot legally distribute any products.

The recalled cheese products were distributed through retail stores in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and the District of Columbia. CDC advised anyone still having the recalled products not to eat any of them and to check their homes for these products and discard them.

Listeriosis is an important cause of illness in the United States. Consumers who develop a fever after eating dairy products manufactured by Roos Foods should seek medical care immediately and tell the health care provider about eating a recalled dairy product. Although people can sometimes develop listeriosis up to two months after eating contaminated food, symptoms usually start within several days.

Listeria can grow in dairy products at room and refrigerator temperatures. Listeria can also be spread to other dairy products, including cheeses that are cut and served on the same cutting board or stored in the same area as contaminated cheese.

More information about listeriosis and the steps people can take to reduce their risk of infection can be found on the CDC Listeria website (or the Spanish version of the website).

FDA Warning Letters: Pesticides, Mycotoxins, Adulterated Dietary Ingredients

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 1:02am

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published nine warning letters it issued to two dairies, a vegetable farm, an orchard, a bakery, a sunflower-seed manufacturing plant, a seafood facility and two dietary supplement manufacturers.

Doughty Valley Holsteins of Millersburg, OH, and North Florida Holsteins of Bell, FL, received warning letters after selling a calf and a dairy cow for slaughter that were considered adulterated because of unacceptable levels of drug residues in their tissues.

When FDA tested parsnips grown by Ed Fields & Sons in Andover, MN, the agency detected the pesticide Linuron at levels exceeding the tolerance established by regulation set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Samples of apple cider manufactured at Iowa Orchard in Urbandale, IA, tested positive for patulin, a mycotoxin that is produced by certain species of Penicillium, Aspergillus and Byssochlamys molds that may grow on a variety of foods, including apples. Exposure over time to high levels of patulin may pose a health hazard.

The mean level of patulin in the two samples was 62.5 and 55.7 parts per billion (ppb), while FDA’s action level is 50 ppb.

FDA found “serious violations” of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) in Manufacturing, Packing, or Holding Human Food at Serpe & Sons of Wilmington, DE.

Among other things, the facility was cited for cobwebs directly above manufacturing equipment, open bags of flour left near “visible filth,” insufficient storage space, packing sandwich rolls for delivery into large cardboard trays that were stacked directly on the concrete floor of the production area, failure to properly identify and store toxic cleaning compounds, no soap in the hand soap dispenser, and no trash receptacle at the only hand-washing station in the bread production area.

ConAgra Foods’ sunflower-seed manufacturing plant in Afton, MO, was cited for preparing, packing or holding foods under insanitary conditions “whereby they may have become contaminated with filth, or may have been rendered injurious to health.”

The facility’s violations of CGMPs included failure to demonstrate that the procedure used for cleaning and sanitizing equipment is effective, to take reasonable precautions to ensure that production procedures do not contribute to contamination from any source, and to maintain gloves as intact, clean and sanitary for use in food handling.

Seven years ago, Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butters produced by ConAgra were recalled because they were associated with a multi-state Salmonella outbreak.

FDA sent another letter to Pesquera Alvarez y Alvarez of Magallanes, Chile, declaring the company’s frozen, vacuum-packed cooked king crabmeat products “adulterated” after the seafood facility failed to provide an adequate Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan.

The agency also sent letters to two manufacturers of dietary supplements – Aloe Man International Corp of Miami, FL, for CGMP violations and misbranding, and Driven Sports of Franklin Square, NY, for using a new dietary ingredient in products that has been deemed adulterated.

In each letter, FDA requested that the farms and companies provide written responses detailing steps taken to bring the firms into compliance with food safety laws and regulations, to correct violations cited in the letters, and to prevent their recurrence.

Report: Organic Industry Achieved 25 Years of Fast Growth Through Fear and Deception

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 1:01am

A 3,400-percent increase in sales in 24 years makes organic the fastest-growing consumer food and lifestyle trend in modern history, say independent researchers looking into the industry’s strategies and marketing practices.

What they’ve found, though, isn’t pretty. Those robust sales, they say, were built on the backs of American taxpayers with deceptive practices involving the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a willing participant.

With sales of $35 billion in the U.S. and $63 billion worldwide, the organic marketing industry has become very sophisticated, researchers found, working through advocacy groups brought in to practice fear-mongering, but without exposing the pricey organic brands that have grown up during this period of explosive growth.

When expanded to the so-called “natural products,” the organic industry’s sales reached $290 billion last year in the U.S. alone. But it seems the organic industry acts mostly out of fear that more consumers may come to accept the cheaper, conventional products as safe.

The “Organic Marketing Report” by Academics Review looks at the 25-year history of the modern organic industry. The independent international organization, founded by professors from the University of Illinois and the University of Melbourne, only accepts unrestricted monetary contributions.

What the report refers to as “intentionally deceptive” marketing is simply organic companies disclosing truthful information about how their food is produced, responded Scott Faber, executive director of Only Organics.

“Under the USDA organic standards, organic food must be grown without persistent pesticides and the use of GMO seeds, and organic livestock must be raised without antibiotics and hormones. Organic companies have the right to disclose these practices just as orange juice companies have the right to print ‘not from concentrate’ on their packaging,” Faber said.

Consumers want “more and more information about how their food is produced and organic gives them that,” he added. “This report will in no way deter consumers from seeking out transparency and making purchasing decisions based on this information.”

The report also wants more transparency, suggesting that both government and the organic industry currently fail to disclose that the USDA organic seal says nothing about food safety. However, they know through USDA’s own consumer polling that food sold under a USDA organic seal is seen by 65 percent of respondents as healthier, by 70 percent as safer, and by 46 percent as more nutritious.

None of these factors is included anywhere in USDA organic standards. The report quotes Michigan State University Law Professor Brandon Lupp as saying that those USDA organic seals are often found on products making false or misleading claims about health and safety benefits.

“These (health and safety) preferences are clearly driving consumer purchase decisions in the grocery store, but the correlation between the establishment of national organic standards, increased consumer confidence in organic products, and the resulting increase in production and sales cannot be ignored,” Lupp explains about the USDA organic seal’s influence on consumers.

Lupp also notes the USDA organic seal is sometimes associated with other government food safety agencies that have no connection to it, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

By contrast, the study points to the effectiveness of the Organic Trade Association’s marketing campaign, “Organic: It’s Worth It,” to justify the higher prices it requires consumers pay for its products. In its analysis of collaboration between organic brands and activist organizations, the report notes that the vice president of marketing for the organic company Nature’s Path was asked about whether fear is a smart way to market against genetically modified organisms.

“I don’t think you lead with fear about a brand in food, but you can, and perhaps should, lead with fear as an industry,” said Nature’s Darren Mahaffy.

“As illustrated in this report, organic companies market their products by promoting alleged health benefits connected to the absence GMOs, hormones, antibiotics and pesticides juxtaposed to health risks they associate with less expensive competing conventionally produced products, which may use their production tools,” the report states.

Academics Review goes back 25 years in its study of the organics industry. Included in the analysis are more than 1,000 news reports, 500 website and social media accounts, and reviews of hundreds of marketing materials, including advertisements, analyst presentations and reports by advocates. The report’s findings were reviewed by an independent panel with expertise in food science, economic and legal affairs.

“Our report finds consumers have spent hundreds of billions of dollars purchasing premium-priced organic food products based on false or misleading perceptions about comparative product food safety, nutrition and health attributes,” it states. “The research found extensive evidence that widespread, collaborative and pervasive marketing activities are a primary cause for those misperceptions. This suggests a widespread organic and natural products industry for these misperceptions.

The report further charges the organic industry with “intentionally-deceptive marketing and paid advocacy” that is “enabled and conducted” by the U.S. government through the USDA organic program.

“It is our hope that responsible members of the organic food industry and government officials will use these findings to address consumer misperceptions about important issues of food safety and nutrition,” says Professor Bruce Chassy, professor emeritus University of Illinois Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition. “Accurate food safety, nutrition, and health information combined with consumer pocketbook protections should be a threshold standard for any U.S. government program that cannot be cooped by special interest marketing groups.”

Kraft Recalls Oscar Mayer Classic Wieners for Packaging Mix-Up

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 1:03am

About 96,000 pounds of Oscar Mayer Classic Wieners were recalled Sunday by Kraft Foods Group Inc. of Columbia, MO, because of a packaging error. Classic Cheese Dogs are contained in packaging for Classic Wieners.

The packaging error means that the ingredients are not properly listed and a known allergen, milk, is not listed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said that the cheese dogs contain pasteurized cheese.

The following products are subject to recall:

•16-oz. packages – individual consumer packages – of “Classic Wieners Made with Turkey & Chicken, Pork Added” with “USE BY 16 Jun 2014” date and product code “044700000632”
•Cases of 16-oz. packages – distributed to retailers – of “Classic Cheese Dogs Made with Turkey & Chicken, Pork Added, and Pasteurized Cheese Product” with “USE BY 16 Jun 2014” date and case code “00447000005300”

The products were produced on March 2-3, 2014, and bear the establishment number “Est. 537H” inside the USDA mark of inspection. The products were distributed to Kraft distribution centers and in retail stores nationwide.

A consumer who notified the company on April 18, 2014, discovered the problem. The company contacted USDA the following day regarding the issue.

FSIS and the company have received no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about a reaction should contact a healthcare provider.

New Laws in China to Tackle Rampant Food Safety Problems

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 1:02am

(This article was first published April 15, 2014, by the Australian Institute for Food Safety and is reposted here with permission from AIFS.)

Infected snail meat, poisonous mushrooms, goat meat marinated in duck urine to make it taste and smell like lamb – these are just some of the culinary delights that China’s food industry has served to its citizens since 2006.

In a move to clean up China’s international reputation for appalling food safety, new food safety laws will ban firms caught producing or selling unsafe foods from operating. As a result of these new laws, if a company’s food license is revoked, company executives and employees will not be allowed to work in the food industry for five years.

But is fixing the problem as simple as spouting out new laws? The Chinese government will have a hard time battling the deep-seated attitudes of Chinese companies determined to take shortcuts for a quick yuan; it may take many years to see real progress.

Harrowing stories emerge when you poke into China’s food safety record. In 2004, a company was charged for making soy sauce from human hair, gathered from public places like hair salons and hospitals, and mixed with condoms, used menstrual pads, and used syringes.

China has also seen cases where milk was laced with melamine – an industrial chemical used to create laminate flooring, high resistance concrete, and Magic Erasers – tragically killing at least six children and making nearly 300,000 ill.

In May 2013, Chinese pork dealers tried to pass decaying pig meat off as freshly butchered. Meat labelled as lamb has been found to contain rat, fox and mink meat. “Blood puddings,” made with more formaldehyde than blood, are widely available in Chinese markets. And, most recently, gutter oil, an illicit cooking oil pulled from grease traps and sewers, has been circulating in Chinese restaurants and street food vendors.

Past efforts by the Chinese government to fix the food industry have failed spectacularly, so this time, will we finally see a difference? Only time will tell. But as the Australian government tries to forge links with the Asian food market, we’ll be waiting with bated breath.

Controversy Continues Over Listing Evaporated Cane Juice on Ingredient Labels

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 1:01am

Recent action by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may smooth the path for food manufacturers to continue to declare sweeteners derived from cane syrup (such as sugar) as “Evaporated Cane Juice” (ECJ) on food labels, at least for the foreseeable future.

Last month, FDA announced that it was reopening comments for 60 days on its 2009 draft guidance for declaring ECJ as an ingredient. The announcement states that FDA reopened comments to obtain more information on ECJ and to better understand the difference between ECJ and other sweeteners.

FDA’s announcement comes amid controversies over the use of ECJ in place of sugar on food labels. In Northern California, for instance, class-action plaintiffs sued food manufacturers, alleging that ECJ is another name for sugar. And, while food companies may want to use the term ECJ rather than sugar to make their products seem healthier, FDA regulations require food labels to reflect common or usual names of ingredients.

Reopened Commenting May Stall or Dismiss ECJ Lawsuits

So far, the most important issue in the ECJ lawsuits has been the relationship between FDA’s draft guidance and primary jurisdiction. Primary jurisdiction allows courts to dismiss a case without prejudice, e.g., without declaring one side a winner, when the issue is within the special competence of an administrative agency and the agency is taking steps to address an issue. Put differently, a court can dismiss a case on primary jurisdiction grounds and defer to an agency working on the issue.

Prior to FDA reopening the commenting period, it was unclear whether courts should dismiss the ECJ cases on primary jurisdiction. On one hand, class-action plaintiffs argued that FDA has already resolved the ECJ labeling issue because it has clearly and continually held that sweeteners derived from cane syrup should not be labeled as ECJ. On the other hand, industry argued that a 2009 draft guidance, which is not binding on industry, is not a final resolution of the issue.

The reopened commenting period may put a fork in the class-action plaintiffs’ arguments. In Swearingen v. Santa Cruz Natural Inc., for example, a case out of the federal District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge Susan Illston held:

“In light of the March 5, 2014 [notice of reopened commenting], the Court finds it appropriate to apply the doctrine of primary jurisdiction. The notice states that the FDA has not resolved the issue of whether ECJ is the common or usual name of the ingredient at issue and that the FDA is engaged in active rulemaking on the issue.”

But not all district court judges are following Judge Illston’s reasoning, according to Arnold (Arnie) I. Friede, a food and drug law attorney with Sandler Travis & Rosenberg and a former associate chief counsel in FDA’s Chief Counsel’s Office.

“Given the divergence of views by different district court judges on whether ECJ cases should be dismissed on primary jurisdiction grounds, it seems reasonable to believe that the matter will be up before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the not-too-distant future,” Friede said.

No Changes to ECJ Regulations are Likely in the Near Future

FDA reopened the draft guidance for 60 days, but it is unclear what the agency’s actions on the ECJ issue will be after comments close.

“The agency expects to issue final guidance, although I cannot predict a date at this time,” said Arthur Whitmore with FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine.

Given FDA’s long to-do list, some are skeptical of whether the agency will take action to resolve the ECJ issue anytime soon.

“As a practical matter, and now that it has reopened the comment period on the draft ECJ guidance, it is probable that FDA will not get to this for a very long time, if ever, particularly given other competing priorities in the food arena,” Friede said.

So courts are dismissing ECJ cases on primary jurisdiction grounds, thanks to the reopened commenting period. Yet it seems that FDA will not likely resolve the ECJ issue on its own, at least for now.

“As a practical matter, if courts dismiss these ECJ cases on primary jurisdiction grounds until FDA resolves the issue, the cases pretty much disappear,” Friede explained. “Depending on one’s perspective, that may or may not be a good thing.”

Letter From the Editor: THC Limits for Marijuana Edibles

Sun, 04/20/2014 - 12:05am

Let me begin with a warning. If you read this any further, it may be a 4/20 buzzkiller for you. This is not my intention, but it may be the result if facts sometimes get in the way of a comfy view of the universe.

I  just thought that today might be the right moment to talk about whether tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) doses in Colorado marijuana are too high, especially in those “edibles.” Colorado’s four months of recreational pot sales have come with some limits. State law sets 5 nanograms of active THC in the blood as the legal limit for driving. Then there’s a “serving size” limit of 10 milligrams of THC for marijuana edibles, meaning a cookie with 65 milligrams is said to contain six-and-one-half “servings.”

Details like these have been lying in the weeds of the weed story for some time, but they’ve suddenly taken on a new sense of urgency that some are finding upsetting.

Last week, I wrote a news story on how two bills to regulate recreational marijuana in Colorado were suddenly moving quickly in the final days of the legislative session in response to events that have occurred since the state became the first in the nation to make pot sales for fun legal.

The “biggest story since the end of prohibition” has dominated the news in Colorado for months. It’s been a Food Safety News story only when marijuana “edibles” are involved because that does involve food and food safety.

This area of the Colorado pot story has moved pretty slowly up until now. The Department of Revenue’s pot regulators are supposed to be coming out with “potency testing” guidelines next month. Actually dealing with potency has seemed far off.

When something changes on that front, we are going to bring it to our readers. It’s that simple and does not merit subjecting us to vile comments about our motives.

Previously, we reported on the limited nature of Amendment 64’s regulation of “edibles.” We found it weird that this area of “making and baking” would be off-limits to our normal food safety regulators.

So, when reports of illnesses and deaths appear to have sparked some fast and late bill action by the Colorado Legislature, we are going to cover them. Those bills look to be ready for House floor votes this week, possibly as early as tomorrow.

As a Colorado resident, here’s what I think is bothering my stoner friends. They wanted this big experiment we are all involved in to come out perfectly, and it not going be that way. That’s why children with acute illnesses show up in ER rooms and psychotic reactions leading to deaths trouble them enough that they want to shoot the messenger.

This is a big experiment involving more than 5 million people. I doubt, however, that we will ever go back to when someone with a badge stands between me and my small-batch bourbon or my friends and their marijuana. We are all in this together, and we all have Colorado license plates, which now subject us to warrantless search if we leave the state.

That’s reality, and so, too, is it reality that, out of millions of marijuana purchases since this experiment began, at least two appear to have led to fairly immediate deaths.

The first was a 19-year-old Wyoming college student who took a deadly leap off a Denver hotel on March 11 not long after eating edible marijuana.

Laboratory reports ordered as part of the autopsy and released last week found 7.2 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood in the deceased foreign student, Levy Thamba Pongi. His friends, who tried to restrain him from jumping off the hotel, said he’d consumed a marijuana cookie but no other drugs or alcohol and that was consistent with the lab findings. The high TCH was officially listed as a contributing cause in the death.

The second was 44-year-old Kristine Kirk, allegedly shot dead by her 47-year-old husband Richard Kirk while she was reporting his psychotic behavior to a police 911 operator after he’d consumed marijuana candy.

The father of three stands accused of the murder, but lab work on what was actually in his system might not come out until the trial.

One bill Colorado lawmakers will be voting on soon will ban putting marijuana in any food product “that is primarily marketed to children,” or one that might be confused with a trademarked food product. Another would establish equivalences between one ounce of marijuana flower and various other products.

Currently, Colorado residents can take their one ounce per purchase in hash oil, and it’s viewed the same as an ounce of the plant. Not making it easy for children to get marijuana edibles and coming up with equivalences seem to be basic steps in getting to safe THC limits for edibles. It should be all about respecting the power of Colorado weed.

THC is the principal psychoactive ingredient in the marijuana plant. THC levels in the 25-to-27-percent range have become common, up from about 3 percent in the 1970s.

Publisher’s Platform: I’m Having Cheerios for Breakfast

Sat, 04/19/2014 - 11:44pm

Not sure who Kirstie Foster is, but they should make her CEO of General Mills IMHO. Here is what she said:

“As has been widely reported, General Mills recently posted a revised set of Legal Terms on our websites. Those terms – and our intentions – were widely misread, causing concern among consumers.

“So we’ve listened – and we’re changing them back to what they were before.

“We rarely have disputes with consumers – and arbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled. Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful.

“But consumers didn’t like it.

“So we’ve reverted back to our prior terms. There’s no mention of arbitration, and the arbitration provisions we had posted were never enforced. Nor will they be. We stipulate for all purposes that our recent Legal Terms have been terminated, that the arbitration provisions are void, and that they are not, and never have been, of any legal effect.

“That last bit is from our lawyers.

“We’ll just add that we never imagined this reaction. Similar terms are common in all sorts of consumer contracts, and arbitration clauses don’t cause anyone to waive a valid legal claim. They only specify a cost-effective means of resolving such matters. At no time was anyone ever precluded from suing us by purchasing one of our products at a store or liking one of our Facebook pages. That was either a mischaracterization – or just very misunderstood.

“Not that any of that matters now.

“On behalf of our company and our brands, we would also like to apologize. We’re sorry we even started down this path. And we do hope you’ll accept our apology. We also hope that you’ll continue to download product coupons, talk to us on social media, or look for recipes on our websites.

“Our legal terms? You’ll find them right on our website. You’ll also find they’re back to what they always were.”

General Mills – “Good on ya.”

Pennsylvania Health Department: Discard Raw Milk From Greenfield Dairy

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 6:31pm

Raw milk from Greenfield Dairy near the central Pennsylvania town of Middleburg is likely contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes and should be discarded immediately, state officials say. Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized.

The Greenfield raw milk has not yet been associated with any illnesses. The dairy’s  milk collected for routine sampling by a commercial laboratory on April 8 tested positive for Listeria bacteria.

Greenfield Dairy, located at 1450 Tittle Rd., is owned by Paul Weaver, who sells directly to consumers at an on-farm retail store. The packaged raw milk is sold under the Greenfield Dairy label in half-gallon glass containers dated April 18, 21, 22 and 24.  It is also labeled as “raw milk.”

State agriculture officials have ordered the owner of the dairy to stop the sale of all raw milk until further notice. Two samples taken at least 24 hours apart must test negative before the farm can resume raw milk sales.

Pennsylvania law allows farms to sell raw milk but requires the farms to be permitted and inspected by the agriculture department to reduce health risks associated with unpasteurized products.

There are 175 farms in Pennsylvania permitted to sell raw milk or raw milk cheese.

Symptoms of Listeriosis usually appear within one to three weeks, but can be as short as three days or as long as 70 days after consumption and include fever, muscle aches and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance or convulsions can occur.

Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness, but infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth. Any person who consumed raw milk from Greenfield Dairy and has symptoms should consult their physician or visit their local state health center.

Food-Safety Tips for Easter Eggs

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 2:20pm

Easter Sunday is coming right up, so here are some important food-safety tips to remember this time of year when you’re decorating, cooking and/or hiding Easter eggs:

Be sure and inspect the eggs before purchasing them, making sure they are not dirty or cracked. Dangerous bacteria may enter a cracked egg.

Store eggs in their original cartons in the refrigerator rather than in the refrigerator door.

Wash your hands thoroughly with hot soapy water and rinse them before handling the eggs when cooking, cooling, dyeing and hiding them. Also thoroughly wash utensils, counter tops and anything else the eggs will come into contact with.

It’s a good idea to use one set of eggs for dyeing, decorating and hunting and a second set for eating. Or, you can use colorful plastic Easter eggs with treats or toys inside for your Easter egg hunt.

If you’re planning to eat the Easter eggs you dye, be sure to use food-grade dyes only. You can even make your own egg dyes from common and easily available foods.

If you’re having an Easter egg hunt, consider your hiding places carefully. Avoid areas where the eggs might come into contact with pets, wild animals, birds, reptiles, insects or lawn chemicals.

Make sure you find all the eggs you’ve hidden and then refrigerate them within two hours. Discard any cracked eggs.

As long as the eggs are NOT out of refrigeration for more than two hours, they will be safe to eat. Do not eat eggs that have been out of refrigeration for more than two hours. Refrigerate hard-cooked eggs in their shells and use them within one week.

Refrigerators should always keep foods at 40 degrees F or colder. If you’re not sure about yours, check the temperature with an appliance thermometer.

If you are planning to use colored eggs as decorations (for centerpieces, etc.) and the eggs will be out of refrigeration for many hours or several days, discard them after they have served their decorative purpose.

If you will be painting and decorating hollowed-out eggshells, use pasteurized shell eggs so you don’t expose yourself to Salmonella from the raw egg while blowing it through holes poked in the shell. To sanitize the outside of the egg, wash it in hot water and rinse it in 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach per half-cup of water.

Observing these food-safety tips will make it a fun and healthy Easter for you and your family.

Government Wants to Keep Argument Going Over Parnell’s Expert Witness

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 1:02am

Knowledge is a powerful thing, especially where it comes into play in a federal criminal case.

A new dispute has erupted between government and defense lawyers in the pre-trial proceedings involving former Peanut Corporation of America chief executive Stewart Parnell’s all-over knowledge.

Government prosecutors say Parnell’s defense attorneys have misstated the law regarding whether knowledge is an essential element of any of the offenses charged, and that they should get a “surreply” or sort of a legal do-over, in their arguments against allowing an expert witness at trial.

Defense attorneys say that a surreply is not necessary and point to nearly seven hours of testimony, a 197-page hearing transcript and 193 pages of exhibits as enough.

“In total, the government, not the defendant, has created 433 pages of argument and evidence on this issue for the defendant and this court to review,” E. Scott Austin, Parnell’s lead attorney says. “If the government has not yet had the opportunity to make its argument on this issue clear, then one would be hard-pressed to imagine a scenario where the government could make its argument,” he added.

The pre-trial issue is whether Dr. Joseph C. Conley, Jr., the neuropsychologist who claims Parnell suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) should be allowed to testify as an expert at trial. That  jury trial, scheduled to get underway this summer, is supposed to decide whether Parnell is guilty or not guilty of 72 federal felony charges stemming from an investigation into the 2008-2009 Salmonella outbreak involving peanut butter and peanut paste from PCA plants in Georgia and Texas.

Charges include conspiracy, introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, introduction of misbranded food into instate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, instate shipments fraud, wire fraud and obstruction of justice.

The outbreak involved 700 illnesses and nine deaths.

Government attorneys want to make additional arguments over the expert witness issues because they claim Parnell’s attorneys committed a “misstatement of law” by saying for the first time that “knowledge is not an essential element” of any of the offenses charged against Parnell. They filed a motion with U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands asking to brief the issue because it had not been raised earlier by the defense. The motion states that knowledge is a required element for most of the crimes of which Parnell stands accused.

In response to the government motion, Austin says that prosecutors are  incorrect and take arguments on Parnell’s behalf “out of context of the overarching legal and factual setting ….”

Austin states, “Parnell’s defense is not that he was incapable or unable to obtain the knowledge required to commit a criminal offense (including conspiracy), but rather that he never formed the intent required to be guilty of a criminal offense. And, as stated in his Reply, knowledge as an essential element of a crime is significantly different that factual knowledge that may make it more likely or not that a defendant formed a criminal intent, the issue surrounding Dr. Conley’s testimony.”

Parnell and three other former executives of the peanut processing company were indicted in February 2013 on a total of 76 federal felony counts. All four defendants are free on bail and to assist in their own defense.

Stewart Parnell’s brother, Michael Parnell, PCAs former vice president and peanut broker; Samuel Lightsey, PCA’s Georgia plant manager, and Mary Wilkerson, the quality control manger, are the other three defendants. The three have been on the sidelines while Sands, the trial judge, conducted pre-trial “Daubert” proceedings over Conley’s status.

Expert witness proceedings are named for “Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals,” a precedent-setting case on expert witnesses.

Other important dates leading up to the trial include:

April: Hearing for other pre-trial motions is April 30.

May: Deadline of May 20 for government and defense attorneys to file any start-of-trial motions known as “in limine.”

June: Responses to motions in limine will be due June 9, and replies must be turned in by June 19. A June 24 pre-trial hearing will be held for Sands to hear arguments on the start-of-trial motions. Sands wants the attorneys to meet regarding exhibits on June 25.

July: Attorneys must propose voir dire questions for the jury and jury instructions by July 7. If all of this stays on the tracks, the jury trial will begin on July 14.

FoodNet Report: Pathogen Infection Rates Still ‘Well Above’ Government Targets

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 1:01am

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its latest report card on the trends in foodborne illnesses on Thursday, and, in general, not much has changed from previous years.

According to the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), there were a total of 19,056 infections, 4,200 hospitalizations and 80 deaths reported in 2013.

FoodNet is a collaboration between CDC, 10 state health departments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Food and Drug Administration that tracks incidents of Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157, STEC non-O157, Vibrio, Yersinia, Cryptosporidium and Cyclospora.

As Food Safety News reported earlier this month, the number of laboratory-confirmed illnesses falls far below the actual number of people sickened by foodborne pathogens each year. CDC estimates that 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths are linked to foodborne illness annually.

One of the purposes of FoodNet is to help create a foundation for these estimates, as well as to identify areas of concern for subsequent policy and prevention efforts.

In 2013, the most common reports of infection were from Salmonella and Campylobacter. The incidence rate per 100,000 people was 15.19 for Salmonella and 13.82 for Campylobacter. They, along with STEC O157 and Vibrio, have rates “well above” their respective Healthy People 2020 targets, the report states.

In the short term, the rate of Salmonella dropped about 9 percent from the previous three years, but it was still at the same baseline levels of 2006-2008, continuing to remain above the government’s target of 11.4 per 100,000 people. FoodNet also suggested that the large Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak linked to eggs in 2010 might account for the incidence spike in 2010-2012.

One point drawing a lot of notice in the report is the increase in Vibrio infections, which are often linked to consuming raw shellfish. Although the pathogen accounted for only 1.3 percent of the reported infections in 2013, its incidence increased 32 percent from 2010-2012.

Robert Tauxe, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, noted that the number of Vibrio cases has increased 75 percent since 2006-2008 and 168 percent since 1996-1998.

“We’re at the highest level observed since our tracking began in 1996,” he said. “However, the rates of infection caused by Vibrio vulnificus, which is the most severe strain, have not increased particularly in recent years.”

The report also noted that, in the summers of 2012 and 2013, many of the Vibrio parahaemolyticus infections of a strain previously traced only to the Pacific Northwest were associated with consump­tion of oysters and other shellfish from several Atlantic coast harvest areas.

“E. coli infections continue to inch up and the progress that had been noted since 2006-2008 in past years has stalled,” Tauxe said.

The report also notes a “continued decrease” in incidents of HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome), possibly due to unrecognized changes in surveillance, improvements in management of STEC O157, or a decrease in infections from the most virulent strains.

“Continued surveillance is needed to determine if this pattern holds,” the report concludes.

As for the other foodborne infections tracked, rates of infection compared to the 2010-2012 rates “haven’t changed much,” Tauxe said.

Relative rates of culture-confirmed infections with Campylobacter, STEC O157, Listeria, Salmonella, and Vibrio compared with 2006–2008 rates

Culture-independent diagnostic tests (CIDTs) are increasingly being used to diagnose bacterial enteric infections – mostly for Campylobacter and STEC. Any of these positive tests that were confirmed by culture were included in FoodNet’s statistic of 19,056 infections.

But FoodNet has also identified an additional 1,487 reports of positive CIDTs that were not confirmed by culture, either because the specimen was not cultured or because a culture did not yield the pathogen.

FoodNet decided to start tracking these tests in 2013 to better understand their uptake, calling them “a trend that will chal­lenge the ability to identify cases, monitor trends, detect out­breaks, and characterize pathogens.”

There are currently no national guidelines for sending positive CIDTs for culture confirmation, but Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that she wants CDC to develop a plan to address their increased use.

“Otherwise the trend of declining reporting of outbreaks may continue — not because fewer people are getting sick, but because state health departments and CDC cannot track the outbreaks,” she said.

During a press conference about the report, David Goldman, Assistant Administrator for the FSIS Office of Public Health Science, and Stephen Ostroff, FDA’s Acting Chief Scientist, laid out how their agencies hope to address the lack of progress in decreasing contamination.

For FSIS, Goldman referenced the proposed modernized poultry inspection rule, Salmonella performance standards for chicken parts and ground poultry (which are expected this fall), and education and outreach.

“While Salmonella-positive samples in young chickens have dropped over 75 percent since 2006, unfortunately this has not translated into domestic changes in Salmonellosis,” he said. “While we hope that all of these steps just outlined are headed in the right direction, this report reminds us that there is more work to be done.”

For FDA, implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is at the top of the to-do list. Ostroff also cited progress made under the shell egg safety rule and work with partners to understand what circumstances are most associated with Vibrio illnesses.

“The findings, taken as a whole, reinforce the importance of moving forward with preventive measures that will help ensure food safety of every stage of production from the farm to the consumer,” Ostroff said.

Surveillance data from the annual reports FoodNet publishes help agencies know where to target prevention efforts. And, like consumer advocates calling for finalized policies and new regulatory approaches, this latest report states, “More can be done.”

Wisconsin Salami Products Recalled for USDA Misbranding Problem

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 11:31pm

Bolzano Artisan Meats LLC, of Milwaukee, WI, is recalling approximately 5,723 pounds of salami products for misbranding and because they were produced without the benefit of federal inspection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Thursday.

Products produced under the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (WDATCP) inspection program are eligible for sale within the state of Wisconsin when they bear the Wisconsin state inspection shield on the immediate package.

However, the products being recalled incorrectly bear the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) program version of the USDA Mark of Inspection, which requires federal acceptance into the program. Because the establishment is not part of the CIS program, products they produced and distributed bearing the CIS program version of the USDA Mark of Inspection cannot be sold through interstate commerce.

The products subject to recall include:

  • 6-oz. or 12-oz. packages of “Bolzano Artisan Meats All Natural Uncured, Old School Salami,” 6/6-oz. or 3/12-oz. packages per case (UPC 7935 7389 6360)
  • 6-oz. or 12-oz. packages of “Bolzano Artisan Meats All Natural Uncured, Pamplona Runner Salami,” 6/6-oz. or 3/12-oz. packages per case (UPC 7935 7389 6353)
  • 6-oz. or 12-oz. packages of “Bolzano Artisan Meats All Natural Uncured, Fin Oh Kee Oh Na Salami,” 6/6-oz. or 3/12-oz. packages per case (UPC 7935 7320 3564)
  • 6-oz. or 12-oz. packages of “Bolzano Artisan Meats All Natural Uncured, Pig Red Salami,” 6/6-oz. or 3/12-oz. packages per case (UPC 7935 7320 3571)
  • 6-oz. or 12-oz. packages of “Bolzano Artisan Meats All Natural Uncured, Pitzotl Salami,” 6/6-oz. or 3/12-oz. packages per case (UPC 7935 7322 1698)
  • 6-oz. or 12-oz. packages of “Bolzano Artisan Meats All Natural Uncured, RauchZwiebel Salami,” 6/6-oz. or 3/12-oz. packages per case (UPC 7395 7320 3588)

The products subject to recall were produced between Sept. 20, 2013, and March 15, 2014, include batch numbers 1208 to 1214, and bear the CIS program version of USDA Mark of Inspection with the establishment number “EST. 692SEWI.” Cases containing the products subject to recall may bear the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (WDATCP) inspection label, but the individual product packages may be misbranded with the CIS program version of the USDA Mark of Inspection.

Products bearing the Wisconsin state inspection shield on the immediate package are not subject to this recall.  The recalled products were distributed for institutional and retail sales nationwide as well as sold over the internet.

The problem was discovered by FSIS personnel after receiving information about the product being in commerce. The company began using new packaging labels with the CIS program USDA Mark of Inspection before implementing all federal requirements that would authorize use of the USDA Mark of Inspection through the CIS program. Wisconsin state inspection personnel were not aware of the application of labels and have been assisting FSIS in the investigation of this issue.

FSIS and the company have received no reports of illness due to consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about a reaction should contact a healthcare provider.

FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks to verify recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers.

Consumers with questions about the recall should contact company owner Scott Allen Buer at (414) 238-4874.

Publisher’s Platform: General Mills – You Can’t Sue Me!

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 4:04pm

When Stephanie Strom of The New York Times wrote “When ‘Liking’ a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue,” it caught my attention. At first I thought General Mills could not be serious about trying to deny its customers the right to their day in court if wronged by a General Mills product. I mean, why would a company focus on saving itself from a potentially bad outcome when it should be focused on making foods that are healthful, safe and honestly labeled?

And, it seemed at first blush the so-called “Arbitration Clause” had the limited application to using the General Mills website. The policy reads:

These terms are a binding legal agreement (“Agreement”) between you and General Mills. In exchange for the benefits, discounts, content, features, services, or other offerings that you receive or have access to by using our websites, joining our sites as a member, joining our online community, subscribing to our email newsletters, downloading or printing a digital coupon, entering a sweepstakes or contest, redeeming a promotional offer, or otherwise participating in any other General Mills offering, you are agreeing to these terms.

I thought the arbitration clause certainly would not also involve a situation where a General Mills product sickened or killed a consumer with a foodborne pathogen. But, a bit further down the policy, the desire of General Mills becomes much clearer – it wants to deny its consumers the rights of a civil jury trial even in situations resulting in personal injury or death. The policy continues:

3.  Dispute resolution; binding arbitration

This Section 3 is intended to be interpreted broadly to encompass all disputes or claims arising out of this Agreement or your purchase or use of any General Mills product or service for personal or household use. As noted above, “General Mills” includes any and all of General Mills’ affiliated companies or brands. These affiliated brands include, but are not limited to, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Green Giant, Yoplait, Nature Valley, Old El Paso, Progresso, Hamburger Helper, Toaster Strudel, Gold Medal, Bisquick, Totino’s, Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lucky Charms, Kix, Trix, Cocoa Puffs, Total, Wheaties, Fiber One, Chex, other General Mills Big G cereals, Box Tops For Education, and all other brands listed here: http://generalmills.com/Legal_Notice_Brands.aspx

ANY DISPUTE OR CLAIM MADE BY YOU AGAINST GENERAL MILLS ARISING OUT OF OR RELATING TO THIS AGREEMENT OR YOUR PURCHASE OR USE OF ANY GENERAL MILLS SERVICE OR PRODUCT (INCLUDING GENERAL MILLS PRODUCTS PURCHASED AT ONLINE OR PHYSICAL STORES FOR PERSONAL OR HOUSEHOLD USE) REGARDLESS OF WHETHER SUCH DISPUTE OR CLAIM IS BASED IN CONTRACT, TORT, STATUTE, FRAUD, MISREPRESENTATION, OR ANY OTHER LEGAL THEORY (TOGETHER, A “DISPUTE”) WILL BE RESOLVED BY INFORMAL NEGOTIATIONS OR THROUGH BINDING ARBITRATION, AS DESCRIBED BELOW.

Well, it seems pretty clear that General Mills is intent on having consumers – even those who may have suffered a serious injury – seek redress only in a forum of General Mills’ choosing. Do not think for a second that this in any way benefits a sickened consumer. By adopting this policy, General Mills has clearly decided to focus on saving itself from litigation and not focus on what keeps it out of a courtroom, namely focusing on making foods that are healthful, safe and honestly labeled. If General Mills would focus on those three things, the likelihood of spending time in a courtroom would be of far less concern to it and much better for its consumers.